Exclusive: Taylor Swift Talks About ‘Red,’ How to ‘Begin Again’ With New Love, and Being the World’s Best-Behaved Bad-Ass

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  • Taylor Swift
    Taylor Swift
    American singer-songwriter

It's a Red-letter day for Taylor Swift fans, as her fourth studio album finally hits stores after two years of breathless waiting that made die-hard fans blue in the face. Yahoo! Music sat with Swift in Nashville to talk about the making of the album and the stories behind the massive singles "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" and "Begin Again." Dig into the full text of our Q&A or watch the video footage to get the breakdown straight from the deeply red lips of the superstar herself...

YAHOO! MUSIC: When you played the iHeartRadio Music Festival recently, you were doing mostly older songs but ended the set with "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together." And it seems like that song is such a phenomenon that it's this very rare thing: a brand new song so powerful that it could immediately become your new show-closer every night on tour, instead of "Love Story" or another familiar stand-by.

SWIFT: I think when I played "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" live, whether it was at the VMAs or it was at iHeartRadio, it was very apparent to me that it could possibly end up being one of those songs that you close the show with. And I'm always thinking about how we're gonna portray a song live, how we're gonna put together the set list. That song is one of the biggest group sing-along songs I think I've ever gotten to put out. So it's really exiting to look out into a crowd and see that everybody is signing the words to that chorus. It's the most gratifying feeling.

YAHOO!: You have that spoken-word bit in the middle of the song, and it sounds like found footage that was captured at a moment of inception in the studio, as opposed to something you came up with to stick in the song later.

SWIFT: You're exactly right. I loved writing "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," because I wrote it with Max Martin and Shellback, and we were in the studio in the middle of writing a completely different song. And a guy walks into the studio who I hadn't met before but I knew was a friend of my ex-boyfriend. He was like "Hey, so, so-and-so has been talking about you. I hear you guys are gonna get back together." And I was like, "Nice to meet you, you know?" And Max was like, "We're in the middle of a song, bro!" And he walks out and I just kind of went on this rant of like, "We are never getting back together. Ever. Like, ever." And I explained the whole situation to Max and Shellback, and told them from beginning to end this whole up-and-down, on-and-off relationship that was exhausting... And it ended up working right after the bridge of the song, and I think it was Max's idea to just pop it in. It was one of those moments that it took the moment before we wrote the song and incorporated it into the song, so it was really exciting.

YAHOO!: Was that little monologue of yours captured because someone left the mic open in the studio?

SWIFT: Well, it was a voice memo on someone's iPhone. We had our phones out. When you're in a writing session, you're saying things and singing melodies that you don't remember afterward, so you have to go back and listen to 'em and say "Oh, that second thing that you did was really cool." So we always had some kind of recording device going.

YAHOO!: If you're doing a blindfold test on the album, you can immediately tell the difference between a Max Martin/Shellback production and a Nathan Chapman production. But given that, it coheres remarkably well...

SWIFT: Oh, thank you for saying that.

YAHOO!: But did you have your doubts along the way about that? There was no guarantee that your traditionally acoustically based material—however loud it ends up being after Nathan Chapman is finished with it—would mix in with the pure pop stuff that fits in perfectly with where Top 40 radio is at right now.

SWIFT: When I was approaching the idea of making this album... It took two years. In the first year, I wrote a lot of things on my own and kind of produced them with Nathan the way that we always do things. And my label came to me and they said, "You're done. This record is finished. Congratulations." And I looked at my label head, Scott Borchetta, and I said, "I just don't think we are. Because I think it's good but I don't think it's different enough. And I don't think we're covering enough new ground here." Because this is album 4. And when you're making album 4, you have two choices: You can either do things the way that you have always done them, and then you're forming a pattern of doing things the same way, or you can switch it up and go outside your comfort zone. And for me, my comfort zone is writing songs alone. So I just thought, what if I were to indulge those curiosities that I've always had?

Since I was old enough to understand what a songwriter/producer is, I've had a curiosity about how Max Martin creates what he creates. I wanted to see that happen. I wanted to be there. I wanted to learn from him. I wanted to know how Jeff Bhasker creates those drum sounds. And I wanted to be in the studio with Butch Walker and see how he creates this really organic but emotionally charged music. I wanted to understand how these people do what they do, and see people who make music in a different way than I do. So worrying about whether it was cohesive or not, whether these songs would sound like each other... I didn't want the album to have a definitive sound that was all reminiscent of each other. But the emotions I felt in the last two years were all very singular. Each one of them felt so different from every other feeling. It was very scattered all over the place. So I wanted the album to reflect how those feelings felt. And the way that the album ended up working, it ended up being a cohesive thing. It ended up working in that they all are woven with the same kind of lyrical stories. I just really like the fact that it's an eclectic blend of music.

YAHOO!: Talking about the emotions of the album, it runs a pretty wide gamut, to say the least. You've always said your albums are a diary of your last two years. Back in January, a Vogue magazine came out with an interview with you saying this was going to be a "crash and burn" romance album. So I was expecting "Better Than Revenge" times ten or "Dear John" squared. But this is definitely not that. It has its volatile moments, but Red seems like a sweeter album than what you were promising back in that Vogue interview.

SWIFT: I think that for me, the interesting part about making an album for two years is that the most amount of change happens in the last six months of it. So you're working for the first year writing songs, putting together lists, going in the studio, producing these songs. But what ends up usually happening is, that first year is like a development phase, and you usually end up scratching a bunch of the things that you did. At that point [when the Vogue interview occurred], the album was about one relationship. And then you go into year 2, and you have new experiences and learn all kinds of new lessons. And there are still some things that are very heartbroken on the record. But there are also shades of different kinds of things that I was inspired by, different layers of emotion, different levels of emotion.


In "Begin Again," you sing that, prior to the moment captured in the song, for "eight months" you were thinking that love sucks, basically. If the record is autobiographical, we would suppose you were writing songs for the album before, during, and after that eight-month period of thinking love always breaks.

SWIFT: I had many different opinions of love over the course of the last two years. And the song "Begin Again" came after the dust kind of settled on one of those situations I was in. it's an interesting feeling when you kind of look up from it. For the past year you've been looking back and recounting everything, just writing about it and kind of going back in time. Then all of a sudden you have this moment where you look up and look around and realize that there's something else out there for you, clearly. And I think that that kind of thing that happens where you all of a sudden have this epiphany that there's hope, that it starts over, that there's rebirth in that whole horrible crash-and-burn end of a relationship, I think that's a pretty wonderful moment. And for me that moment inspired the song "Begin Again."

YAHOO!: When you were being introduced at the iHeartRadio Music Festival, the actress who was introducing you first called you "America's sweetheart," then moments later referred to you as a "bad-ass." That's a pretty good paradox to have working for you, if it is one. But people do have these two twin images of you as lovable and so sweet, but also a tough chick who puts whatever she thinks in her songs. Do you think this album ultimately veers one way or another, toward the bad-ass or the sweetheart?

SWIFT: I think that for me, my music is a way for me to get out what I don't typically say in my life. In my life, I never yell at you, and I'm never gonna actually go off on someone. But in my music, when I'm sitting there alone in my room and I can say these things that I really, truly mean, that are completely truthful, I can say them in a song. And that's for me, music has always been the way to finally have a chance to be completely 100% honest with people, even if it hurts them. And the only reason I would ever do that in a song is because someone had hurt me. But that's the part where I feel like I can rebel. You know, people are always like "oh, you're so well-behaved." Its like, no: everyone has their avenues of rebellion, their venues for that. And for me, it's when I pick up my guitar. That's when I feel like all right, there's no rules here—let's go.

But that's not all! Stay tuned for more of our Taylor Swift interview, where she talks about the recent charity single "Ronan," as well as getting into the stories of the bonus studio tracks on the deluxe edition of Red...